Expectations, Skepticism, and Hope among Thailand’s Political Parties


Partyforumseasia: Thailand’s political history has not been “smooth as silk”, as the tourism promoting slogan tried to characterize the country. Since the end of the absolute monarchy, in1932, there were seven failed and eleven successful military coups, the last one in May 2014. Since then, under Prime Minister and former general Prayut Chan-o-cha, a junta called the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has banned activities of the political parties, but promised the eventual return to democracy. The volatile and splintered party landscape had produced massive unrest and turmoil since, in 1998, Thaksin Shinawatra founded the Thai Rak Thai Party which swept him to power in 2001. The ingredients of his meteoric rise were lots of money and a hitherto neglected voter base in the poor North and Northeast. The political establishment, aka Bangkok elite, did everything to fight Thaksin. His party was banned by the constitutional court, but survived in re-incarnations. The second one is still around as Puea Thai or Pheu Thai, and the third one surfaced only a few days ago, on 7 November, under the name of Thai Raksa Chart Party.

The much anticipated return to civil rule has been delayed until now, promised elections were postponed, but a new constitution and many institutional changes have been implemented in the meantime. To be fair, though, the NCPO-junta-regime has at least managed a smooth royal transition from the revered King Bhumibol to his less popular son Vajiralongkorn, for which internal and external pundits had predicted turmoil and uprising.

Sensing the popular expectations, PM Prayut has now hinted that the polls might be held on 24th February 2019. Deputy Prime Minister (and Defense Minister) Gen. Prawit Wongsuwon, has informed the impatient parties that the partially relaxed ban on political activities will be lifted, once a new election law for the national parliament will be enacted on 12th December, followed by a royal decree to confirm the election date.
Here are some glimpses into the preparations of the main competitors:

The Democrat Party, founded in 1946, is the oldest political party, and has played an important role since. The liberal-conservative party opposed military rule already in the 1990s, led government coalitions several times, but had no chance against Thaksin Shinawatra’s power and money politics. Its leader since 2005, Abhisit Vejjajiva, re-elected last week, was Prime Minister from 2008 to 2011. The Democrats are strong with a well established party organization and with a solid power base in the South and in Bangkok. The party machinery is well prepared for the campaign.

The Puea Thai Party has just elected a new chairman, Viroj Pao-in, a retired police Puea Thai leadergeneral. The problem of the party is the looming uncertainty whether the junta or the courts might dissolve it before the election, because they suspect the exiled former leader, Thaksin Shinawatra, to pull the strings from his exile in Dubai. Puea Thai and connected groups, supported by the so-called United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, or Red Shirts, have won the last five elections and were only stopped by the courts and the military,

Another ally in the “pro democracy camp” is the Future Forward Party, led by young tycoon Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.

But there is also a new kid on the block, the recently founded Thai Raksa Chart Party. Observers in Thailand suspect that this third re-incarnation of Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai is the plan B or safety net in case the Puea Thai should be dissolved. Marketing themselves as “political young blood” politicians, the core members and leaders come predominantly from political families related to Thaksin, including party leader Preechapol Pongpanich. Whether this new group is fighting fit for a nationwide campaign remains to be seen.

This year alone, more than 30 new parties have applied for registration with the Election Commission, in addition to the about 16 established ones. As mentioned, Thailand’s  party landscape is volatile and splintered, and at the same time dynamic and flexible. The main fault line, however, is the social and political divide between urban royalists, known as the “yellow shirts”, and Thaksin’s supporters and his rural support base, the “red shirts”.

High hopes on a return to civil rule and liberal democracy may be premature. The determination of Prime Minister Prayut and his military backing to keep in control  should not be underestimated. The “precautions” of the military in neighboring Myanmar to control Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government should be a warning.

 

This post, like all the others in the blog, is free for reproduction. We only request a copy. 

A New Multi-Party Democracy in Thailand?


Partyforumseasia: Since the Thai military ousted the Yingluck Shinawatra / Pheu Thai government in May 2014, party political activities were banned. Promises to re-establish democracy by holding elections were superseded by new promises and delays. YingluckBut junta leader and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, feeling the growing frustration of the prohibited voters, has finally announced that the election will be held “no later than February 2019”. This means that there is still a year for preparations on all sides of the broad political spectrum which includes the military and several supporters who want to prevent a return to the tumultuous contestation which triggered the military coup, and especially a return of the Shinwatra clan.

Since 1 March, in preparation of the election, the Election Commission has started to accept applications for new parties, after no less than 114 groups have expressed their interest to apply. By Friday, 2 March, 38 applications had been submitted with their party name and logo, among them many newcomers. More than any other country in the region and beyond, the Thai party scene has been volatile with ever changing parties and coalitions as well as “reincarnations” of parties dissolved or banned by the courts. Registration is possible until end of March, and the Election Commission will have another 30 days for vetting and approval.

The expected playing field for the upcoming election will see at least three distinct party types. One will support the continuation of military supervision and “law and order”. Observers believe that the acting Prime Minister has ambitions to continue, which would be possible even is he is not elected, by a provision in the military-drafted new constitution through appointment by parliament. PM Prayut is being supported by several new parties, namely the “Reform People Party”, the “For Thai Nation Party”, the “Public State Party”, and “The Great Mass of People Party”. The latter has been

Suthep
Thaugsuban

initiated by veteran politician Suthep Thaugsuban, the controversial driving force behind the street turmoil in Bangkok in January 2014, to which he reportedly contributed funds from his own wealth. (see our related post “Who is funding Bangkok’s street protests” here LINK).

Another group will count on the new proportional representation system in the party law to get a few seats in the new parliament. Some of them might get cabinet posts as free-riders in case they are needed for a coalition government.

The third group may try to offer an alternative to the “old” parties. The chances of the oldest Thai political party, the Democrat Party, with its pro-establishment, though anti-military image might be difficult to gauge. Rumors that nearly 80 year-old Chuan Leekpai who was Prime Minister twice in the 1990’s would run again don’t sound too realistic. But the former Prime Ministers Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister Yingluck still enjoy massive support from their former voters and try to be visible in the media. Be sure, though, that the military will do anything it takes to prevent them from returning.

YingluckThaksin Shinawatra, Prime Minister 2001 – 2006
Yingluck Shinawatra, Prime Minister 2011 – 2014

 

From MMM to MMP: Thailand Changing The Electoral System


Partyforumseasia: Changing the electoral boundaries (gerrymandering)  is the most common and most unnoticed manipulation of election systems, whereas the impact of tweaks and changes in the electoral system may be the most controversially discussed in political science. But even when the outcome for a certain party is difficult to predict, the committees changing the system have effects and outcomes on their minds.

The Bangkok Pundit, Jan 16, 2015 (Link) gives an interesting introduction of what is in the pipeline:
“The CDC (=Constitutional Drafting Committee) is proposing a Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system, modeled after the system in Germany. Like Thailand’s previous Mixed-Member Majoritarian (MMM) electoral system MMP gives voters two votes: one for a constituency MP in a single seat electoral constituency, and one for a party list. However, rather than simply adding the party list seats to a party’s constituency seat total, as is done under MMM, the party list vote is used to determine the total number of seats a party receives. The goal of MMP is to make the number of seats each party obtains as proportional as possible to the percentage of party list votes the party receives.”

Thai

“The total number of seats in the House of Representatives will be a minimum of 450 and a maximum of 480 seats, at least 20 fewer seats than the previous parliament. The number of constituency seats has been dramatically reduced, from 375 in the 2011 elections to a proposed 250, with about 250,000 people per MP. The number of seats set aside for the party list increases from 125 to 200. At 44 percent of total seats this represents the largest percentage of seats set-aside for the party list since Thailand adopted a two-tier system 2001. Finally, as in 2007 the party list seats are to be divided across 8 electoral regions.”

Testing the difference between MMM and MMP on the 2007 and 2011 elections, the analysis shows that the new system will be an advantage for the Democrat Party. The impeachment process against former PM Yingluck Shinawatra and her forseeible banning from the political scene show anyway the general intention of the changes: Keeping the Shinawatras and the Puea Thai party out.

Thailand’s Dilemma – Coherently Explained


Partyforumseasia: Thailand’s dilemma is certainly caused by severe elite failure. But it is difficult to decide whether Thaksin and his allies or the Bangkok elite and the Democrat Party are more to blame for the frightening cleavage dividing north and south and the society at large. Under the headline The Story of Thaksin Shinawatra  British journalist Richard Lloyd Parry draws the longer lines of the political impasse which help to understand the developments during the last months.
See his conclusion here:
“Many people bear responsibility for Thailand‘s divisions, prominent among them Thaksin, who must dearly wish that he had rubbed his enemies‘ noses in it a bit less gleefully during his years in office. ThaksinBut the suave villainy of the Democrat Party, and of men like Abhisit and Korn, is insufficiently recognised. They understand how democratic opposition works, and how defeat, over time, strengthens losing parties, by purging them of what is unrealistic and superfluous, and forcing them into congruence with the aspirations of voters. Twice they have had the opportunity to reject military force and to insist on the primacy of elections; twice they have held the generals‘ coats for them, and watched civil rights being trampled on, in the hope of gaining some respite from their own chronic unelectability. The Democrat Party‘s leaders – young, attractive and cosmopolitan could have positioned themselves as mediators between a corrupt, complacent old elite and a corrupt, arrogant new power. Instead, they chose their natural side in the class war, and achieved the feat of losing the moral high ground to a man such as Thaksin. Their responsibility, and their disgrace, are very great.”                 London Review of Books, 6 June 2014   Link here:
http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n12/richard-lloydparry/the-story-of-thaksin-shinawatra

Partyforumseasia is notoriously optimistic about regional politics, but Lloyd Parry’s comment on the possibility of a North-South civil war reminds us of an earlier post on this blog which tried to wrap a warning into (hopefully!!) gross exaggeration.

WorldNewsAgency-WNA-WorldNewsAgency-WNA-WorldNewsAgency-WNA-WorldNe
15 February 2064:
The Southeast Asian Miracle: Thailand’s Re-Unification sealed!!
After the recent breakthrough in prolonged negotiations between the two sides and efficient diplomatic support from ASEAN, the heads of state of the Kingdom of Tightland (formerly known as South Thailand) and the Kingdom of Thaksimania (formerly known as North Thailand) have signed a comprehensive re-unification treaty. The signing ceremony took place in the UN Headquarters in Beijing in the presence of unification advisers from Germany and Korea.
After the former Thailand split in 2015, the founding father of Thaksimania, business-politician Thaksim Shinawatra was soon elected King of Thaksimania. The people loved him because he could fund the government out of his own pocket and reduce the tax burden to a symbolic 5%. This led to a massive migration of the business community from Bangkok and the South to Thaksimania, where they were warmly welcomed by his Majesty on the condition of participating in the funding of his government.
The impact on former South Thailand was more than difficult. The Royal Finance Ministry witnessed a rapidly dwindling inflow of taxes which could not be balanced by the most investment friendly policies worldwide. So the impoverished country succumbed to pressure from Thaksimania to drop the aggressive use of the outdated name of Thailand. To secure a sufficient flow of development aid from the rival in the North, the King agreed to change the official name of the state into Tightland. Starting around 2035 already, many countries in Asia were able to reduce or abolish taxes and military spending because the regional security was no longer threatened by the US but guaranteed by China. This ended the decades of saber rattling and aggressive symbolic politics between Tightland and Thaksimania which made the re-unification possible at the end. It remains to be seen how the population of the two nations will adapt to the changes and the big difference in affluence. 😉

Strategy or Kamikaze? Thailand’s Democrat Party…


Partyforumseasia: … between the devil and the deep blue sea, or in the more drastic German variation of the saying, choosing between plague and cholera?The problems of the Democrat Party are serious enough: It has not won an election since 1992, it narrowly escaped dissolution for irregularities with campaign donations, Chairman Abhisit Vejjajiva, just re-elected yesterday, is indicted for murder as main responsible for the army crackdown on protesters in 2010, and Prime Minister Yingluck may have outmaneuvered them by calling elections for February.
The Democrat lawmakers have resigned en masse to join Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy Prime Minister and prominent Democrat. Suthep is now the leader of protests against the “Thaksin system”, rallying hundreds of thousands and organizing illegal blockades around ministries and government buildings. This political “pied piper of Hamelin” is demanding that an unelected “people’s council” introduces reforms before the next Parliament may be elected in a year’s time.
SuthepIf the Democrat Party follows Suthep, they will decide on 27 December to boycott the February elections. Participating would probably mean that they lose against Puea Thai, the Thaksin Party. Boycotting would mean losing the Democrat in the party’s name. The party is probably split internally, so their strategy of resignation from Parliament may turn out to be more kamikaze than strategy.

But PM Yingluck had her own kamikaze strategy: her amnesty bill triggered the whole turmoil the country is facing now and more and more affects tourism and economy.

Political Science Papers Thailand: New Paper on Democrat and Phuea Thai Party by Michael H. Nelson


Nelson, Democrat and Phuea Thai

Partyforumseasia: Is Thaksin Shinawatra indirectly back in the driver’s seat, just using his sister Yingluck as facade? An in-depth study by Michael H.Nelson from Walailak University.